New research has revealed tourism students are optimistic their tertiary tourism qualifications will become increasingly sought after as the industry works to reimagine and rebuild tourism in Aotearoa New Zealand.
According to the study conducted by Tourism Management lecturer Dr Ina Reichenberger and research assistant Eliza Raymond from the Wellington School of Business and Government at Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington, with support from the University of Otago’s Tourism department, current tourism students went through an initial period of anxiety in the early stages of COVID-19, but their perceptions of the value of tertiary tourism education have subsequently rebounded and in some cases increased.
The research involved interviews with 24 tourism students at varying stages of undergraduate and postgraduate tourism qualifications at Wellington’s university and the University of Otago.
Dr Reichenberger says the findings came as a surprise.
“With the severe impact of COVID-19 on tourism careers, we were concerned the attractiveness of tourism education could be negatively impacted. However, we found most of the students we interviewed had a positive outlook towards tourism careers in the long term—not despite, but because of, COVID-19.”
Many students had observed extensive tourism job losses in their community and networks and were therefore acutely aware of the vulnerability of the industry. While upcoming graduates were realistic regarding the need to potentially adjust their immediate career plans, most students remained committed to a career in tourism.
They felt optimistic their tertiary tourism qualification would provide them with the knowledge and skills to contribute to rebuilding a more innovative, progressive and sustainable tourism industry.
As staffing issues were identified as one of the biggest headaches for New Zealand tourism operators in a recently released Tourism Industry Aotearoa report, these findings are likely to come as a welcome surprise to the industry and tertiary education providers concerned with recruiting and retaining tourism students.
The TIA report also found 50 percent of tourism operators are focusing on sustainability during COVID-19. Dr Reichenberger and Eliza see a promising alignment with tourism educators’ focus on teaching sustainability issues and career motivations of the future skilled tourism workforce.
“Many students we spoke to were driven by a desire to do meaningful and impactful work to change the tourism industry for the better and create a sustainable future for New Zealand tourism. They felt this was a highly suitable time to study, upskill and prepare for the future,” says Dr Reichenberger.